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Car crimes spiked in Sonoma in 2021

The Sonoma Police Department has seen an increase in auto crimes since 2020, mostly stemming from a rise auto break ins, according to Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office data.

While there was a small decrease in car crimes in Sonoma Valley in 2020, such incidents rebounded in 2021, jumping from 30 reports in 2020 to 50 in 2021. There have been 13 auto-related crimes in Sonoma Valley since the beginning of this year, according to Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office Data.

Sgt. Scott McKinnon at the Sonoma Police Department said Sonoma Valley is not alone in this growing trend of auto-related crimes.

“Property crimes in general have been on the rise lately everywhere,” McKinnon said. “Property crimes are always an issue because it's usually a crime opportunity. You get these thefts around the middle of the night, or using the cover of darkness.”

Though reporting on the increase of auto-related burglaries and thefts have largely revolved around major metropolitan areas like San Francisco — which has become a major point of contention between residents and law enforcement — these same crimes have also grown in rural and suburban areas such as Sonoma Valley.

McKinnon urged residents not to leave valuable belongings inside their vehicles and stressed the importance of locking the doors after exiting the car.

“It's hard because we want to think that we live in this perfect world, in this perfect city, that there's no crime happening whatsoever,” McKinnon said. “And you got a lot of people out there looking for that crime opportunity, they're looking for that unlocked door.”

A Sonoma County picture

Auto thefts have also risen in unincorporated Sonoma County, where the Sheriff’s Office tracked 58 reports in 2019, 73 in 2020 and 76 in 2021. With 23 through the first three months of this year, the county is likewise on pace for another year-over-year increase, according to Sheriff’s Office data.

The rising numbers fit into a complex, and often confusing array of pandemic-era crime data, which show divergent trends across the nation.

In California, homicides increased by 31% and aggravated assaults increased by 9% from 2019 to 2020, but robberies were down 14% and rape decreased 8% in the same time period, according to a California Policy Lab brief published last September.

And while larceny (personal property theft) decreased by 15%, there was a 20% increase in motor vehicle theft year over year, according to the paper.

Police attribute some of that increase locally to would-be catalytic converter thieves, who may find it easier to steal the target vehicle and later access the lucrative parts, rather than deploy jacks and power saws in quiet, residential neighborhoods.

But one of the primary drivers of increased vehicle thefts is what police call the “organized component,” when teams of thieves target commercial trucks with tool racks or cargo bins.

“They’ll steal the trucks to get access (to the other items),” Petaluma Police Lt. Nick McGowan said.

Police recommend residents lock their vehicles, park close to their homes and avoid leaving keys in their cars or allow cars to sit vacant and running.

For those victimized, McGowan said the key to any case is getting information quickly. Part of that, McGowan said, is that oftentimes vehicles are quickly dumped nearby.

“They may take it from Petaluma to a nearby city, remove parts off of it – wheels, components, contents – and leave it on the side of the road or abandoned somewhere,” McGowan said.

Contact Chase Hunter at chase.hunter@sonomanews.com and follow @Chase_HunterB on Twitter.

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